| 20 May 2024, Monday |

The Chinese Communist Party at 100: Hopes and Disappointments

On July 1, the Chinese Communist Party celebrates its centennial, marking its dramatic rise from a small group of idealists to a party of 92 million members that now oversees the world’s second largest economy and the world’s biggest surveillance state.

Internally, its policies color every sector of a nation with the world’s largest population, or 1.4 billion people. Externally, its model is having an impact and influence on distant economies and leaders worldwide not to mention the everyday shopper looking for a new pair of shoes.

One hundred years ago, the party began with meetings in Shanghai of a dozen or so people, who represented, at most, five times their number.

At the time, Shanghai was known for its cosmopolitan drive in an impoverished, divided country struggling to emerge from a string of humiliations by foreign powers that had controlled chunks of its territory for nearly a century.

It wasn’t until October 1949, after years of political turmoil and civil war, that Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China, setting in motion more than 70 years of change.

Getting to that moment in Beijing took the party decades of battles. In its early days, the party allied with the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, in an effort to reunify and modernize China so it could ward off further encroachment by Japan.

The two parties also collaborated to “rid the nation of warlords that prevented the formation of a strong central government,” according to a US State Department history .

In 1925, Sun Yat-sen, the Nationalist’s leader and a revered CCP figure, died of cancer on March 12. On May 30, a series of strikes and protests throughout China left 11 demonstrators dead as British police responded to the anti-foreign eruption on May 30. Anti-imperialist outrage benefited the CCP which grew from a few hundred members to more than 20,000.

Sun’s successor, Chiang Kai-shek, instigated a slaughter of communists in 1927, and despite Moscow’s efforts to engineer cooperation, the two parties fell into a civil war.

By 1931, when Japan invaded Manchuria, the CCP had established itself in rural central China in part by expropriating land from wealthy owners and redistributing it to peasants.

Chiang pursued the CCP and its army, pushing them onto the Long March and off to the caves of Yan’an in China’s central province of Shaanxi giving the party its foundational myth.

In Yan’an from 1935-47, Mao Zedong rose to power, building rural support for the party and expanding it from an initial force of less than 10,000 to nearly 2.8 million members as the CCP adopted a constitution that enshrined Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. The party’s rapid expansion led to more political and ideological education for newcomers, an indoctrination process that came to include even Long March veterans. Known as the Yan’an Rectification, the effort allowed the party, and Mao, to purge thousands of people suspected of disloyalty.

That was only the beginning of decades of political turmoil and internal strife.